Saturday, February 3, 2024

Thanksgiving, Eh? Canadian Thanksgiving

By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. Fall is upon us and it is Thanksgiving yet again. I think Thanksgiving could quite possibly be the most wonderful of all the holidays. It has the best of everything – the most scrumptious food you’ll eat all year (and unlike Christmas – should you celebrate it – you’re not so stuffed with chocolates and cookies that you can’t enjoy it.) Thanksgiving is family, it is the same meal on every table and yet so vastly different, because no one’s roast potatoes are as good as Mum’s and where are the sprouts? You must have sprouts! There is a delicious comfort in the sameness of the meal from year to year, and no one else’s is ever quite as good, though we smile and nod politely as tales are told of heavenly stuffing and whipped cream mishaps.

But I found myself curious about Canadian Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving.

I know a lot about American Thanksgiving, having spent my formative years during the eighties. Our grainy television provided a fairly steady drip of American culture over the years, one half hour segment at a time. To this day I cannot look at a turkey, it‘s wattle wobbling in the breeze and not hear Mr. Carlson‘s famous words echoing in my mind “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” No, siree. It can‘t be done.

In fact I suspect when the world thinks of Thanksgiving (if the world does think of it, the world has rather a lot on it’s plate right now) it thinks pilgrims, football and crushing stampedes for flat screen TVs. Thanksgiving, on a global scale, is as American as apple pie (which is actually English but never mind that now.) The American version is more like your Uncle Bob; big and blustery, a lot of fun certainly, but a little overwhelming. Our own holiday meekly strolls in on the warm October breeze, pulls up a chair and asks you to pass the gravy. Lovely; but often overlooked. Well I suddenly felt the urge to pull up a chair myself, and get to know it better.

So with a curious mind, I took to the Internet and did a few searches (because how else do we find information anymore?) And the first thing I found was…well, not much. Most sites were a comparison of holiday between countries, written -it would seem- by Americans, for other curious Americans. Canadian Thanksgiving in some of these seemed to be a quaint oddity, with the gist being that, aw shucks, those crazy canucks might celebrate in October (October!) but we’re really all the same. Put down your arms, there’s no need to invade after all.

But surely there must be more to our holiday than just a shadow of theirs. Well there is. A little. And here it is:

Canadian Thanksgiving.

“The American version is more like your Uncle Bob; big and blustery, a lot of fun certainly, but a little overwhelming.”

Turns out, us humble canucks invented this whole shindig after all. Who knew, eh? As it happens, the first official Thanksgiving in North America was celebrated when Martin Frobisher made the treacherous Atlantic crossing and lived to tell the tale. Sounds like a whole slew of his crew weren’t so lucky, but never mind about them, no need to let that spoil the party! It was time for a little celebratin’! Feasting and festivities ensued and a grand ol’ time was had by all. That was back in 1578 (Shakespearean times, as in pass the candied yams, ye knave,) so a long time ago. The Americans didn’t have their bash at Plymouth Rock until 1621 which is positively current in comparison. Sort of.

Of course there is some debate as to whether Frobisher’s event actually counts. After all Thanksgiving is not about boarding rickety rafts and heading out in search of China; it’s really more of a harvest festival; a “gee whiz what are we going to do with all these carrots?” kind of celebration. But no matter. There were further soirees in 1606 set up by Samuel de Champlain. He called these festivities the Order of Good Cheer which sounds to me like quite a good start. Then after the end of the seven years war in 1763 there were some very thankful celebrations and you have yourself a nice little holiday forming. There was for a time, a whole little kerfuffle with the date, when it flopped around from this date to that, but eventually it settled on the second Monday in October which I think suits it just perfectly, don’t you?

So whether you watch football or just loosen your belt buckle, flop on the couch and regale your grandparents with what’s wrong with the world today – I wish you a very happy holiday.

Now pass the potatoes, eh?

K. Taylor
Aurora, ON

1] Why Do Canadians And Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving On Different Days?


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